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Better Schools bill could mean better students

Public education in West Virginia has undergone significant upheaval in the past decade. Some of it has been beneficial, some has caused some concern. With the creation of the state School Building Authority, counties have been able to build bright, shiny new buildings for their students with all sorts of high-tech equipment. But many times, these new schools have come at a price.

There is a statewide citizens' group called Challenge West Virginia, which is backing a bill currently in the Legislature that would make some reforms in state education policy.

Backers of the Better Schools bill propose limiting the time a student spends each day on a school bus. The new construction in the 1990s was made possible by consolidation of schools. As many as one-quarter of the schools in West Virginia have been shut down since 1989. As a result, some students find themselves spending more time on the school bus.

Paul Hamrick, an organizer of the Harrison County chapter of Challenge West Virginia, says consolidation has hurt rural kids from low-income families.

"There are too many studies that show that children from poor socio-economic backgrounds who attend smaller neighborhood schools tend to do better academically," he said.

Consolidation in the state has, in many cases, been justified. With ever-tightening budgets, local school systems must economize. But have they gone too far?

Another proposal in the Better Schools bill would require the School Building Authority to consider factors other than just economies of scale when closing a school. They would be urged to also factor in a student's health and safety and to allow for multi-county and regional planning and curriculum improvements.

Generally, when the SBA offers money to a county school board, there are strings attached. The county oftentimes has to close one or more schools and consolidate them into the new facility. This has resulted in a number of smaller, rural schools being closed and the students bused to another part of the county.

We think the Better Schools bill has merit. It would seem to strike a balance between building new schools and meeting the needs of the students. We hope lawmakers take a careful look at this legislation.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of John G. Miller, James G. Logue, Kevis S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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